Five microsatellite DNA markers were isolated and used to quangify population genetic structure among a subset of UK populations of the Adonis blue (Polyommatus bellargus Rottemburg). Specifically, whether population size, degree of isolation or history of bottlenecking in 1976–1978 can explain current patterns of genetic variation. The butterfly is at its northern range limit in the UK, where it exists as a highly fragmented metapopulation on isolated pockets of calcareous grassland. Most populations were affected by a severe bottleneck in the late 1970s, when a drought caused the host plant (Hippocrepis comosa) to wilt. Mantel tests and spatial autocorrelation analysis indicated a significant effect of isolation by distance among the UK populations, a relationship that broke down at greater geographical scales (> 23.85 km), probably because of large areas of unsuitable habitat presenting barriers to gene flow. Similarly, amova revealed that variation among geographical regions was almost double that observed within regions. Larger populations were found to support significantly higher levels of genetic diversity, suggesting that small populations may lose genetic diversity through drift. If, as in other butterfly species, low genetic diversity increases the probability of population extinction, then these populations are likely to be under threat. Neither isolation nor a history of bottlenecks appeared to influence genetic diversity. The results indicate that adequate population size a crucial factor in the conservation of genetic diversity in P. bellargus in the UK.